Mary Mother of God & Our Spiritual Mother
Homily Jan. 1: Mary Mother of God & Our Spiritual Mother
Fr. Dwight P. Campbell, S.T.D.
Today, January 1, the last day within the octave of Christmas (7 days after the Birth of Our Lord), the Church – most fittingly – celebrates the divine Motherhood of Blessed Virgin Mary.
Since the earliest centuries, the Church has called Mary “Mother of God.” This is her most exalted title, and all the other graces and privileges given to Mary flow from this great truth: that she is the Mother of God.
Actually, in the Greek language, where this title was first used, Mary was called Theotokos – i.e., God-bearer.
We believe, in faith, that God is eternal; He had no beginning.
This is true of all three Persons of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Blessed Virgin Mary conceived in her womb and gave birth to the second Person of the Trinity, the Eternal Son of God.
How can we say, how can we believe that Mary is the Mother of God, if all three Persons of the Trinity, including the Son, are eternal?
To understand the mystery of Mary’s divine motherhood, we must first understand the great mystery of the Incarnation.
What is the Incarnation? God the Son, who is also called the Eternal Word, became man while remaining God when He was conceived in Mary’s womb, by the power of the Holy Spirit, on Annunciation Day – March 25, exactly 9 months before his birth on December 25.
This is what St. Paul, in our 2nd reading today from Galatians, calls the “fullness of time”: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, . . . to ransom those under the law [i.e., the of Moses, which could not save us], so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
The Incarnation is called the “fullness of time” because the eternal Son of God, who always existed outside of time, now enters into time.
It is also called the “fullness of time” because from all eternity, God willed the Incarnation: that the Son of God would become man, and that He would do so through Mary.
In other words, Jesus and Mary were always united in God’s eternal plan.
The Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, has a divine nature: He is co-eternal with God the Father and the Holy Spirit; He is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving.
When we say that “the Word became flesh” in Mary’s womb, we mean that the Son of God took on a human nature: He truly became man, with a human body and a human soul – with a human intellect and human will.
On Annunciation Day, Mary conceived Jesus Christ in her immaculate womb. At the moment she uttered her “Fiat” or “Yes” to the Archangel Gabriel, she became the Mother of God.
At the Incarnation, the second Person of the Trinity united a human nature to His divine Person. What does this mean? It means that Jesus Christ is a divine Person with two natures, both divine (because He is God, the eternal Son), and human (because He truly became man).
Therefore, we can truly say that Mary is the Mother of God – because she conceived in her womb the Son of God who truly became man, while remaining God.
The 6th century poet, St. Fortunatus, beautifully summarizes all this:
1 The God whom earth and sea and sky / adore and laud and magnify, /
whose might they own, whose praise they tell, / in Mary’s body deigned to dwell.
2 O Mother blest, the chosen shrine / wherein the Architect divine, /
whose hand contains the earth and sky, / vouchsafed in hidden guise to lie:
Why did the Son of God become man? To redeem us from our sins. He needed a human body to accomplish the work of redemption, to suffer and die on the Cross in order to win back for us to share in divine life (which we call sanctifying grace) that Adam had lost with the Original Sin, to bring us once again into friendship with God and make us adopted sons and daughters of God the Father, through Jesus, our Brother (cf. 2nd reading, Galatians).
So, when we say that Mary is the Mother of God we do not mean that the eternal son of God began His existence at the Incarnation. We mean instead that the second Person of the Trinity took on a human nature when she conceived Him in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit.
But there is another truth that we acknowledge today, on this feast of Mary Mother of God: the Blessed Virgin Mary is not only the Mother of God; she is also our spiritual mother in the order of grace.
This truth is reflected in the Opening Prayer for today’s Mass: “grant, we pray, that we may experience the intercession of her, through whom we were found worthy to receive the author of life, our Lord Jesus Christ.”
As He was dying on the Cross, Jesus gave Mary to us as our spiritual Mother when He said: “Woman, behold, thy son”; and then said to St. John, the Apostle, “Behold, thy mother.” John represents all the disciples of Jesus.
It is because Mary is truly Mother of Jesus, Head of the Mystical Body, the Church, that she is also spiritual Mother of all the members of Christ’s Body, the Church. She is truly Mother of the Church, both Head and members (see the closing prayer in today’s Mass).
And how does she exercise her spiritual motherhood? The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) no. 963 teaches, under the heading “Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church”: “The Virgin Mary is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the Redeemer. . . . She is ‘clearly the mother of the members of Christ . . . since she has by her charity joined [with Jesus] in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head.’”
Mary’s spiritual motherhood is not only exercised by giving spiritual birth to us; she also, as our loving Mother, forms Christ in us, and conforms us to Jesus, her Son. Vatican II (Lumen Gentium 63) teaches: “The Son whom she brought forth is He whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren, namely the faithful, in whose birth and education [formation/development] she cooperates with a maternal love.
Moreover, as our spiritual Mother, Mary mediates the grace of Christ; she is Mediatrix of all the grace which Christ won for us on the Cross – because she not only gave birth to the Savior, but united herself in love to her dying Son as He suffered and died to redeem us from our sins – making her co-Redemptrix/ cooperatrix/associate with Jesus in redeeming us.
CCC 968: “In a wholly singular way [Mary] cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the Savior’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.” (LG 61)
CCC 969 “This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfilment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation …. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.”
Pope Benedict XVI’s homily May 11, 2007 in Brazil at canonization of Fr. Antonio Galvão, OFM: “There is no fruit of grace in the history of salvation that does not have as its necessary instrument the mediation of Our Lady.” This is really a short summary of the teaching of the Church down through the ages (Sacred Tradition) on Mary’s sublime role in the mediation of the grace of Christ.
And what should be our response to this truth? We should entrust ourselves to Mary, our spiritual Mother, and totally consecrate ourselves to her. St. Louis de Montfort, in his masterpiece, True Devotion to the BV Mary, explains how to do this. Let us always go to Jesus through Mary, knowing that she is the Mediatrix of all the grace of Christ, and that no grace comes to us but through her.